How to Count Music | Exercise to help you find the beat in a song
How to Count Beats in a Song
Whether you’re a dancer, a musician, or just a music-lover, you know that rhythm is an important foundation of any song, and you’ve probably heard the term beat. A beat is the basic unit of rhythm, the underlying steady pulse of the song, the part that makes you tap your feet. With a little practice and a basic knowledge of music theory, anyone can learn to find and count beats in a piece of music.
Listening By Ear
Eliminate distractions.When trying to listen for a beat by ear, make sure you give the piece of music all your attention. Use headphones or move to a quiet environment with no noise interruptions.
Pay attention to the lower instruments, like the drums.If you’re trying to listen for the basic beat of a song, tune out the top instruments like lead guitar or vocals. Try listening for the bass instruments, like the bass guitar or bass drum.
- If you’re listening to a digital recording, try turning up the bass so that you can hear it more easily.
- In a song, the bass line often carries the steady beat. Ignore the complex rhythm and melody. Try to pick out what feels like the heartbeat of the song.
- Listening to the drum line is the best way to count the beats. In country and rock music, you can typically hear the bass drum on beats 1 and 3 and the snare on 2 and 4. In pop, funk, and house music, the bass drum is generally played on all 4 beats, which is referred to as "four on the floor."
Listen to phrasing.A musical phrase is a segment of music that sounds complete in and of itself, often only a few measures long.Practice listening to natural phrasing in music.
- Think of listening to a song as though you were listening to a conversation. Where would the breaths be? What sounds like a musical “sentence”? Try counting these smaller sections of the music to find where the downbeats fall.
Say it out loud.Again, use your words, or tap your feet along to the beat that you feel. If you are not on the beat, practicing out loud will make it more obvious and easier to get back on track.
Start with songs you know well.Familiarity with a song will make it easier to find the underlying beat or pulse. Likely, you already have an underlying understanding of where the beats fall. In learning to find rhythm, repetition is key.
Move along with the music.You can walk, jog, or dance to the song. Your body will probably naturally land on the ground on the beat. Check out John Travolta in "Staying Alive" if you want to see an example:
Using Sheet Music
Know your rhythms.Before you can begin to count in music, you need to understand how long an individual note or rest lasts. Notes are the periods of sound in a song, and rests represent the lengths of the silences in a piece of music.
- A whole note lasts for 4 beats. A half note lasts for 2 beats. A quarter note lasts for 1 beat. An eighth note lasts for a half of a beat. A sixteenth note lasts for a quarter of a beat.
- Rests follow the patterns of the notes. For example, a half rest is a silence that lasts for 2 beats.
- A dot next to a rest or a note means that the note or rest is increased by half its value. For example, a dotted half note lasts for 3 beats.
Measure it.Make sure you understand that every piece of music is divided into parts called measures or bars. This will help you count beats. Every measure in a piece of music has an equal number of beats.
Determine the time signature.The time signature appears at the beginning of every piece of music as a fraction. It may change throughout a song, and if it changes, the new time signature will appear at the beginning of a bar.
Use your words.As you read sheet music, articulating the beats in a song make them easier to understand and keep track of. For eighth notes, use “and.” Say, “one-and-two-and-three-and-four.” For sixteenth notes, use “e” and “a.” Say, “one-e-and-a-two-e-and-a-three-e-and-a.”
- In a song, the downbeat is the first articulated beat in a bar. For example, the “one.” Make sure you find and articulate this first.
- The upbeat is the “and.” For example, if you are tapping your foot to a beat, the upbeat is the time when your toes are in the air.
Use a metronome.If you know the time signature of a piece, a simple way to help keep a steady tempo while counting beats is to use a metronome. A metronome gives a regular ticking sound with a set rate of beats per minutes. Many free metronomes can be found online.
Determining Time Signature
Understand the importance of time signatures.To count the beats in a piece of music, you must understand the 2 components of rhythm: meter and tempo. Tempo is simply a description of how fast or slow a piece of music is. Meter is the regular pattern of beats in a song and how those beats are stressed. Time signatures look like fractions that describe the meter of a piece of music.
- The top number tells you how many beats will be in each measure. The bottom number tells you what kind of note each beat is. For instance, if the bottom number is 1, that means whole notes and if the bottom number is 2, that means half notes. Similarly, 4 means quarter notes and 8 means eighth notes.
Practice counting simple time signatures first.Time signatures can represent simple time, compound time, or complex time. Counting simple time first will help you familiarize yourself with the process of figuring out and understanding the time signature.
- Simple time can be duple, triple, or quadruple, which means the top number will always be 2, 3, or 4.
- Unlike compound time, in simple time, you feel the beat in multiples of 2. This means that you can divide each note in each bar into 2. For example, in 2/4 time, the 2 quarter notes per bar can each be subdivided into 2 eighth notes. The natural accent falls in multiples of 2 or 3.
- Tap your feet. When figuring out the time signature by listening to a song, pay attention to the beat of the bass line. Try to determine whether or not the pulse you hear can be naturally divided into 2. Listen to determine a repeating pattern of rhythm, and count how many notes occur between each repetition.
- Remember common time signatures. A lot of Western music uses 4/4 time, so when in doubt, try counting in 4/4 and see if it fits. Familiarize yourself with other time signatures. For example, 3/4 has a waltz feel to it.
Count in compound time.Unlike simple time, compound time is felt in groups of three.For this reason, the dotted note often defines compound time. The top number of a compound time signature is always 6, 9, or 12.
- In compound time, divide the top number by 3 to get the number of beats in a bar. The units of the beats are found in the bottom number. For example, in 6/8 time, there are 2 beats per measure, and each beat lasts 3 eighth notes, or a dotted quarter note.
- The common children’s song “Row Your Boat” can be counted in 6/8 time, beginning with 2 dotted quarter notes in “row, row.” Try tapping your feet while you sing this song to understand how compound time feels.
Know that complex time signatures sometimes occur.This means a time signature doesn’t fit into the duple, triple, or quadruple categories. For example, 5/8 is a complex time signature because of the odd number 5.
- It’s easiest to look at complex time signatures as a combination of simple and compound time signatures.
- For example, in 5/8, there is one simple beat (two eighth notes) and one compound beat (three eight notes). The order these beats appear in the measure doesn’t matter.
- When you listen to a song that utilizes a complex time signature, you will notice that some of the beats subdivide into two and some into three.
- Use your simple and compound counting skills to keep track of complex meters.
QuestionHow many beats is a quarter note with a dot next to it?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThe dot next to the note stands for a half of a beat. A quarter note stands for one beat. Therefore, a quarter note with a dot next to it stands for one and a half beats.Thanks!
QuestionWhich is the first song a beginner should learn?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerStart with simple music that you are already familiar with, like "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." Once you've mastered the basics, you can move onto more advanced songs.Thanks!
QuestionHow can I sing with rhythm and beat properly?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerUse a metronome and adjust it to a slower tempo. It's okay if it is really slow. Once you can sing in sync with the music, then you can increase the tempo a little bit. Continue this process until you have reached the original tempo of the song and have become comfortable with it.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I write the eight note in figures?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerC,D,E,F,G,A,B,C. These are the 8 notes that there are. The C has been repeated twice because the second C is a higher C.Thanks!
QuestionHow many counts are there per bar?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt depends on the time signature, but generally however many are above the line in the time signature. For example, if the time signature says 2/4, then there are two counts per bar. The most common time signature is 4/4.Thanks!
QuestionCan someone please explain the 2/2 time signature?wikiHow ContributorCommunity Answer2/2 time signature basically means that the half note gets the beat and that there are 2 beats per measure.Thanks!
QuestionWhat does it mean when you say that the bottom number of a time signature represents the "value" of the beat? I don't understand.Hale y MailCommunity AnswerIt means that it shows you whether one beat is a quarter note or an eighth note. When the bottom number is four, one beat equals one quarter note; when it's an eight, your beat equals an eighth note, and when it's a two the beat equals a half note.Thanks!
QuestionWhat happens when there are seven dots after a note?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt depends what the note is. Typically, when there is a note, a dot symbolises a beat of half the note. For example if you see a crotchet followed by a dot, this means that the whole beat is a crotchet and a quaver, because quavers are half of crotchets.Thanks!
QuestionHow much is a C in the music worth?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerA "C" is a note, not a note value. Therefore, how much that particular "C" is worth depends on what kind of note it is and what time signature you are in. If you are in 4/4 time signature, a whole note would be worth 4 counts; a half-note worth 2 counts; a quarter note worth one count; an eighth note worth a half count; and a sixteenth-note worth a fourth count.Thanks!
QuestionWhen I'm practicing a song, I tend to get lose track of which bar I'm in. What can I do to prevent that from happening?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerTry using a metronome. If you know how many beats there are in a measure, and what kind of note gets the beat, then you can count the number of clicks to help you keep track.Thanks!
- If you can, practice with a friend or a group of friends. This will help you figure out when you are off the beat.
- Remember that songs can have more than one time signature. It can help to work on counting small portions of the song at a time.
- Don’t get frustrated! Everyone can learn rhythm, but it takes dedicated practice to be able to effortlessly pick out the beats in songs.
- Use an app, like ReadRhythm, to help you if you're struggling.
Video: Beats, Bars & Phrases (how to count music)
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